A group from Artemis Investment Management, tell us about their trip to see first-hand the difference Quadrathlon funds are making to impoverished children receiving Mary’s Meals.
In November, we travelled to Malawi and Zambia to visit Mary’s Meals and to witness the impact of Artemis Quadrathletes’ fundraising.
Mary’s Meals is a global movement that sets up volunteer-led school feeding programmes in some of the world’s poorest communities, enabling impoverished children to gain an education that can help set them free from poverty. It costs just £12.20 – around the same price as a single main course in a UK restaurant – to feed a child with Mary’s Meals for a whole school year, and 93% of funds are spent on charitable activities.
The funds raised through the Quadrathlon currently support four schools in the southern region of Malawi.
Our trip began with a visit to Dowa, about a 90 minute drive away from the capital, Liliongwe, where we were staying. Chiletso – the Mary’s Meals coordinator for Malawi Central Region and our guide while in Malawi – drove us to a refugee primary school where Mary’s Meals has been providing porridge since August 2007.
This was by far the largest and most diverse school we visited, with 5,190 students in attendance. Many pupils hailed from Somalia and Rwanda, but the majority were from the Congo. During our tour with the headmaster, the positive impact of Mary’s Meals was clear. Attendance is growing week on week thanks to the feeding programme.
Volunteer cooks spend around four hours each day cooking up large quantities of maize porridge, making the kitchen very hot and smoky. Despite this, the cooks were smiling and friendly and one of them even gave us a little dance! When the porridge was ready, the excitement was tangible, with children keen to fill their mugs, then hastily gulping down the meal. It was difficult to not feel a little overwhelmed at their joy.
Chiletso then drove us to Ndunje Primary School. The atmosphere here was very calm and disciplined. Mary’s Meals has only been working with the school since 2014, but the positive effects could already be seen. Attendance has risen to nearly 1,300 – as have the pass rates of students – and more pupils now continue on to secondary school than before. Classes consist of nearly 100 students, yet there was none of the restlessness we had witnessed in the refugee school. The children patiently waited in their classrooms and formed orderly queues to collect their meal.
Many children in Malawi do not have basic learning tools such as pencils and notepads. To complement its main activity of school feeding, Mary’s Meals encourages supporters to donate backpacks for the children filled with essential items such as toothpaste, pens, notebooks, flip flops, and teaspoons.
We were invited to witness a backpack distribution. The team had driven five hours from the Mary’s Meals office in Blantyre with a truck piled high with sacks of backpacks! We visited two schools to distribute the gifts: Mgonda Primary School, where more than 700 students attend from 24 villages, and Chingondo Primary School, which has 441 pupils and has been helped by Mary’s Meals for eight years.
At both schools we split into two groups and helped unload the truck. The classrooms were tightly packed and we counted the number of boys and girls in each class, sometimes two or three times just in case we’d missed anyone, the pressure to get the numbers right was immense!
The children bent down to us as they received their bag, a sign of gratitude and respect. They patiently sat clutching their new backpacks, looking a little bewildered (Mary’s Meals doesn’t inform the schools they will be visiting so the bags are a huge surprise).
Once the bags were handed out, the team started a countdown. Watching the children’s expressions change from confusion to excitement was heart-filling. There were beaming smiles all round as they pulled out the first item from their bag, and the buzz in the atmosphere was amazing. The children started chattering amongst themselves and showing their friends what they had been given. Some even started singing to say thank you!
The trip was an unforgettable experience in so many ways. It was incredibly humbling to visit Mary’s Meals, see the good work they are doing, and witness the benefits the students, schools and communities are reaping. It was especially brilliant to be involved in the Backpack Project. Sometimes it’s difficult to appreciate the effect that such basic items can have on people’s wellbeing when you are physically removed from the situation, but none of us will forget the excitement and gratitude the children had when they opened up their backpacks.
We were made to feel so welcome everywhere we went and it was sad to leave such warm friendly people. We are extremely grateful to Mary’s Meals for organising an amazing, memorable trip and massively thankful to the Quadrathletes, whose fundraising is transforming the lives of these children and their families.
Read what one team had to day about the 2015 Artemis Great Kindrochit Quadrathlon… If you don’t want to enter after reading this, nothing will make you!
Check out our official event photos taken by Ed Smith and the finisher booth photos by Blushbooth
Full results from the 15th Artemis Great Kindrochit Quadrathlon on Saturday 11th July 2015
Mercy Corps trip to Karamoja, Northern Uganda
I completed the Quad last year with my wife Annie. Don’t worry about it being a relationship breaker, we are still married, even after those hours on the hills and kayak together!
As top fundraisers in 2015 we were able to visit the Mercy Corps projects that benefitted from the Quad. The trip was centered on Karamoja in the North East corner of Uganda, near the border of Kenya and South Sudan, and hosted by Sean Granville-Ross: you may have seen his blog from Kampala in the newsletters!
We arrived into Sean’s home city and had 24 hours to see the sights, including a craft market and the only Bahai Temple in Africa. It is a vibrant, colourful city with all the noise and chaos of a capital in the developing world. However while Kampala is developing, there is an expression, “Kampala can’t wait for Karamoja” which is stuck in a time warp of underdevelopment. The communications are poor, electricity is intermittent and many children don’t make it to school. There is a feeling of insecurity due to decades of cattle raids, cross border conflicts and land disputes (all with modern weapons). Communities are fragile in this part of the world and the Mercy Corps projects while varied are about self help and “non aid dependency”.
The next day we thankfully arrived safely in Kotido. Our pilot, having found a puncture before take off, asked us to say a prayer in the plane, “Lord we ask you for a safe passage this morning, bless these people and the good work they are going to do and we thank you for letting me find the puncture before we took off”!
Once here we saw many community projects. Most of these are well advanced and the dialogue between Mercy Corps and the communities is good. One thing they all understood was that eventually Mercy Corps would leave Uganda and that they must learn to not be dependent on aid. We ended our first day in Kotido under the stars, with a visit from a youth group over a goat roast (I thoroughly recommend the offal) and at first watched, then joined in with the traditional Karamoja bounce – bringing a new dimension to Dad dancing.
Lastly we headed further north by road to Kaabong, situated in the foothills of the mountains bordering South Sudan. We visited a cattle corral where the village gather their livestock to protect them from raiders. In 2006 the Ugandan tribes were forced to disarm by local government but the Kenyans and South Sudanese were not. Just ten days before our visit a neighbouring village had been raided. Ninety cattle and two 10 year old boys were taken. Mercifully the boys were turned away at the border and made it back to the village safely.
Probably the most inspiring for me was in the nearby village Keranga where we met a group of 30 ladies who are part of the Kaabong Peace and Development Agency (KAPDA). Several years ago, these ladies, so upset by the killings during the cattle raids, arranged to meet the women of the raiding tribe. They sat across a fire and explained their desire for peace. The willingness to reconcile was great…. “You have killed our family and friends, we want peace and forgive you, please let us all move on and live together as neighbours”…. It was difficult for us to comprehend what soul searching they had all gone through to get there and achieve peace.
The Mercy Corps work is inspiring. For anyone doing the Quad this year I really do commend their work to you. If you haven’t started fundraising yet then it isn’t too late, do pick up the phone and send those emails. Last year Annie and I were top fundraisers so if you do raise some money you might be invited to go next year! See you on the Friday night at the Quad hub in July.
Last month, Mary’s Meals reached a major milestone — the Scottish-based charity is now reaching more than ONE MILLIONhungry children with a daily meal in their place of education; 1,035,637 to be exact.
It’s incredible what can be achieved when people work together with a clear vision. As a grassroots organisation, Mary’s Meals relies on community fundraising, individual giving, and events like the Artemis Great Kindrochit Quadrathlon to support and expand its life-changing school feeding programmes in some of the world’s poorest areas.
There are still 57 million children out of school because of hunger and poverty and at least as many attend class so hungry they can’t concentrate. However, when it costs just £12.20 to feed a child for a whole school year, you can rest assured your fundraising efforts will make a huge difference.
Thank you for helping to support the world’s poorest children, giving them the opportunity of an education and a brighter future. Good luck with your training, and when you’re struggling to see the finish line, just imagine a million special smiles spurring you on.
Photo caption: Children in Uganda celebrate the news that more than one million children now receive Mary’s Meals in school.
YOUR QUAD PROJECT: Improving family health and nutrition in Uganda
In May this year we were delighted to welcome five Quadrathletes to northern Uganda. The group wanted to see exactly where this year’s fundraising was going to make a difference - and I was happy to take a break from training! We spent time in the Karamoja region which has the worst poverty ratings in Uganda with 63% of the population living on less than a £1.50 a day. Nutrition is so poor that only 2% of infants receive a nutritious meal 3 times a day. Maternal mortality rates are amongst the highest in the world.
The group spent time meeting our mother care groups who have been trained by Mercy Corps in good health practices for pregnant women and infants. The women return to their communities to teach others about the importance of attending clinics regularly and breastfeeding their infants for 6 months. Sitting under a shady tree, the mother care group in Kotido spent time with the Quadrathletes showing them the flip charts they use to teach other mothers and describing the challenges they face.
We also met families who were growing their own nutritious vegetable gardens at home. With the support of Mercy Corps parents have learned how to cultivate and nurture
vegetables that grow well in the dry climate that can give young families a healthier diet. Mayrun spent some time showing us how she had grown cabbage, red peppers and leafy greens in her garden to give her children healthier meals.
The group went on to meet local businesses and savings and loans cooperatives. Mercy Corps provides them with support and training to grow their businesses. In supporting all aspects of the community Mercy Corps ensures that livelihoods and markets can thrive. Without this, many villages would struggle to provide for their families and improve their lives and their futures. All this is made possible
with funds raised from the Quad! THANK YOU! I look forward to seeing you on the banks of Loch Tay.
Mike Tindall MBE, former English rugby captain and World Cup winner, will participate in the 2015 Quad together with Rory Lawson, former Scottish international rugby union player.
Chemmy Alcott, Britain’s number one female alpine skier, will participate in the 2015 Quad, together with Dougie Crawford, Britain’s fastest male skier, who is also her husband.
This month, we caught up with them to see how their bike training was going:
“I have been doing as much training as I can - every day I do something different - basic jogging, swimming in Hampton lido or biking. A week or so ago I had a great 3.5hour 48 mile cycle, probably slightly aggressive for my first big ride, but I enjoyed it!”
“My training is varying so can be four times a week or maybe just a couple and the weather is a challenge as nobody wants to ride in the rain! I was lucky enough to get a bit of a practice ride with the big man himself, Rob Wainwright down in Gloucestershire. I do enjoy bike training, that and swimming are my favourite. Running is not my thing so is definitely going to be the biggest challenge!”
Elfreda Whitty and Kirsty Norris both work as Programme Officers for Mary’s Meals, so they’ve seen first-hand the difference that fundraising events like The Artemis Great Kindrochit Quadrathlon can make. This month, the pair have donned their helmets and jumped on their road bikes to prepare for the gruelling 34 mile cycle.
Elfreda has been cycling with the Edinburgh Triathletes Club and said: “The club have been really generous in helping me with my fundraising. The weather has not been great but it’s been really useful to improve my road cycling technique in a group, as well as getting used to cycling against the wind and in the cold!”
Speaking of braving the weather, Kirsty has been taking on the roads of Glasgow each and every morning, cycling to and from work. Kirsty said: “Often it can be difficult to fit in training with a full time job and family commitments, but I have found it easy to cycle to work, and I feel more energized for the day! I have just invested in a new road bike and I’m excited about it arriving.”
However, Kirsty will need to wait before taking it on a test ride because she is in Malawi for the month of May visiting Mary’s Meals’ largest country programme. Kirsty said: “The people I meet in Malawi are very kind and always willing to lend a helping hand, so hopefully I will be able borrow a bike for some of the field trip, even if it does only have one gear! I have a great photo that I’ve shared with this training update of some of the Mary’s Meals Malawi volunteers and local school children with their well-loved bike.”
The girls are already planning some joint training for when Kirsty gets home, including a cycle up near Kenmore, close to the official Quad route. Elfreda commented: “I am looking forward to taking in the scenery around Loch Tay — I know the views are breath-taking — but nervous about the punishing route. It will all be worth it in the end, especially because I know that my fundraising will make a huge difference to Mary’s Meals.
“It’s amazing that Mary’s Meals is helping more than 996,000 of the world’s poorest children with a daily meal in school, where they will gain an education that can be their route out of poverty.”
It is said that Kampala, the capital of Uganda, is built on seven hills. While only partly true, as the city is actually built on many more hills, there are indeed seven hills that have prominence and are important landmarks in Bugandan history. Buganda is the largest of the traditional kingdoms in present-day Uganda, comprising all of Uganda’s Central Region, including Kampala.
As I prepare for the Quadrathlon in less than two months, these seven hills are proving very useful as part of my training for the seven munros leg of the challenge. Whether I’m running up them or biking, I’m hoping that they will stand me in good stead for the 11 July.
As will the weather! The rainy season has well and truly arrived in Uganda. During the week, if it is too rainy (and consequently too muddy on the roads), I have been training on the stationary bike in the gym. But on the weekends, I get on the bike and head to the north of the city. It can be a bit wild with the motorbikes and taxis jostling for road space, but once you get off the beaten track and in amongst the fields and on the dirt roads, the traffic subsides….although the hazards here are children, dogs, goats and chickens!
I must say, I am starting to feel the stress with the Quadrathlon less than 60 days away. I am going to need a big final push and will attempt to get out and train every day. The bike is seeing its fair share of attention, while I’m still trying to fit in the swimming, running and kayak too.
Sandy Biggar who is my partner for the Quad and is based in Edinburgh is apparently training hard too. Well, he cycled to the pub this past weekend!
Last week, pressure came from a different source, the head of our global Mercy Corps agency, Neal Keny-Guyer. Neal has thrown down the gauntlet and launched the Scotland Sweepstake which invites all staff to donate and guess our finish line time to the nearest second! The average Quadrathlete completes the course in 12 hours, but teams can finish anywhere between 9 and 14 hours - I do wonder how we will do!
But, it’s all for a good cause and that is what matters. This week we have visitors from Artemis and Wildfox Events visiting our projects in Karamoja, north-east Uganda. They will see a place where the climate is harsh and the poverty is desperate, a place so poor that only 2% of infants receive a nutritious meal three times a day. But, they will also meet mothers and fathers trying to do their best – and they will find out how the money you raise as part of your Quad participation will help.
Mercy Corps will train families to set up vegetable gardens and grow nutritious food, teach mothers how to cook healthy meals with locally available food, and set up a community volunteering programme that will help identify undernourished children to be treated at the local clinic.
We’ll be sharing more about the visit in next month’s newsletter, but in the meantime – good luck with your fundraising and training!